With the exception of playoffs (which have been reduced to mere myth around these parts of late), Labour Day is the most highly anticipated game on the schedule. Regardless of the records of the teams coming into the game there is always a playoff-like intensity to the game. No small accomplishment when you consider that for the better part of a decade one (if not both) of the teams came into this game with a dreadful record. This year however, for the first time since I believe 2007 both teams enter the contest playing solid football. That ’07 game turned out kinda alright so there’s reason to be excited for this match-up.
The weekend always brings an influx of Bomber fans to give added intensity to the game. I mean sure they might have hygiene practices that make actual barnyard animals seem cleanly by comparison and sure they have romantic interests that make actual barnyard animals a bit nervous but they are generally good folks and we should welcome them… and then boo them until our lungs collapse.
There are two ways I could present the Bombers, both of which are factually accurate. 1) They are one of the hottest teams in the CFL with 5 straight wins and sit among the leaders in the West Division. 2) They have an inflated record with their only wins have come against the East, the lowly Riders and the utterly battered Eskimos… most of which were very narrow margins of victory. For me the truth lies in the middle. I’m not ready to appoint them a new superpower in the West but, opponents aside, they have been playing very good football. Until (if?) Edmonton gets healthy they are the #2 team in the West at this point and not to be taken lightly.
Winnipeg actually lead the league in scoring… and I’m talking actual points not just with their cousins. They hung 40 on us last time so we’ve seen that firepower firsthand. It is all led by Andrew Harris. He leads the best running attack in the CFL and would be considered a damn good player even if you excluded his rushing stats and considered only what he catches. Priority 1 has to be containing him and that means sound tackling. We have to get him down on first contact and not let him rumble for more. Despite my long help belief that Matt Nichols wasn’t a great QB, he’s playing at a very high level this year and making me change my stance. He has an impressive 17/5 TD/INT ratio and just seems to have the ability to will his team to those narrow victories. As surprising as it is that the Bombers score the most, to me it’s equally surprising that the Riders allow the 2nd least points defensively. We are also allowing a league low 61.4% completion rate to opposing QBs. Our defensive resurgence has coincided with James replacing Minter and Butler replacing Lyles. Like last game it needs to start up front. Winnipeg has a good O-line but they are allowing the 3rd most sacks so they can be beat. Disrupt Nichols, take away his safety blanket in Harris and we and that will allow us to dictate the things as we have done the past 2 weeks. Weston Dressler will return so another key would be not forgetting he exists in the 3rd quarter.
Offensively we have never scored less than 37 points at home this season and we are facing a defense that allows the most points of any team that did not stupidly try to hire a controversial coach this past week. They are by no means a pushover as they have the most interceptions and second most turnovers but they can be scored on. They have allowed 30+ points 5 times this season and the only team they held under 25 was Hamilton. Once again it starts in the trenches. I expect the “no longer held back by Dan Clark” O-line to have a good game and keep Glenn upright. I would also be looking to attack the Bombers on the ground. They allow 5.2 yds per carry (2nd worst) and allow the most runs of 20+ yards. A sure-fire way to negate the pass rush and reduce odds of turnovers is let Marshall pound it. Randle and Heath are playing good on the one side of the secondary but I would not be afraid to attack the other side with Carter and Roosevelt (or Grant or Bagg for that matter). Outside of strong play in the trenches, the other must is protecting the ball. For the better part of 2 years Winnipeg has thrived on the turnover, take away those and they become a very beatable team. No easy task but we are second best in the CFL at maintaining possession. We just need Glenn to avoid his customary “what the bleep were you thinking” pass per game. I see 30 points as an almost certainty for us and just hope our defense can keep it under that.
One last thing to mention is that Winnipeg allows the most kick return yards. Given our vastly improved return game this year that may be an area to watch for a momentum changer.
Prior to last year’s loss (which I am still super bitter about for the record) I would have picked us to win even if Vince Young was our starter and his back-up was a potato (for the record I would like our odds better with the potato than Young) because we never lose on Labour Day. This year however it’s not an automatic. We’ve been proven mortal and Winnipeg is playing their best football since 2011 (a year where we embarrassed them on Labour Day by the way). I don’t expect the ass whooping we’ve seen the last 2 weeks. I expect a game befitting the name “Classic”, close, hard fought, exciting.
If my heart lasts through to the end of the game, I expect to see the Riders emerge victorious and re-establish their Labour Day superiority over our eastern neighbours (to go along with our superiority in reading levels, tooth count, and winning Grey Cups more than once every 30 years). Had we not forgotten Weston Dressler existed for 3 excruciating minutes last game or made a routine FG, the Bombers don’t beat us Game 1 and we are a vastly improved team since then. They have improved too but not enough to stop the roll we are on.
Riders by a FG (Crapigna totally redeems himself)
One last note, get LOUD! Let’s prove the full extent of the volume capabilities of our new home. Cowbells, milk jugs with pennies in them, vuvuzelas, if it makes noise, bring it! Just be warned, if you use it on offense better bring some mustard because I’ll be jamming that thing down your throat. Most important scream your lungs out. If you can can’t on Monday morning then you have failed as a fan.